Japan’s New PM Suga Vows To Combat COVID-19, Revamp Economy

JAPAN-NEW-PM
Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga leaves at the end of an extraordinary Diet session at the Upper House of parliament in Tokyo on September 17, 2020. / AFP / Behrouz MEHRI

 

Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged Wednesday to keep coronavirus infections under control and kickstart an economy in recession, as Shinzo Abe left office after a record-breaking tenure.

In his first remarks after being elected by parliament earlier Wednesday, Suga emphasised his will be a cabinet of continuity, seeking to further the policies championed by Abe.

“We need to carry forward the policies that the Abe administration was pushing, I feel that is the mission for which I have been called,” Suga told reporters.

He sidestepped questions on the possibility of a snap election to consolidate his position, saying that “what the public wants right now is that we manage to end the pandemic soon and at the same time we steadily restore the economy”.

“Achieving both the prevention of the spread of infection and rebuilding the economy is what they desire most… We hope to do our best on this issue first.”

He dwelled little on political ideology or foreign policy goals, instead pledging administrative reform, an end to “bureaucratic silos”, and greater digitalisation of government.

 

 

Newly elected leader of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Yoshihide Suga (C) is applauded after he was elected as Japan’s prime minister by the Lower House of parliament in Tokyo on September 16, 2020. / AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

He said he would seek continued strong ties with Washington and stable relations with China and Russia.

But he offered no details and made no mention of ongoing tensions with South Korea, or any specifics of his defence strategy, particularly towards North Korea.

– ‘Tough issues’ ahead –

The 71-year-old takes the top job after decades in politics, most recently in the role of chief cabinet secretary, where he was a key enforcer of government policy as well as spokesman.

A long-time Abe adviser and right-hand man, Suga has said his run was inspired by a desire to continue his predecessor’s policies.

His new cabinet is full of familiar faces, with Abe’s foreign and finance ministers staying on, and the outgoing premier’s brother appointed to lead the defence ministry.

Suga won an easy victory in a vote in parliament, where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds a commanding majority.

But he now faces a raft of tough challenges, from immediate problems like the coronavirus and the postponed Olympics to longer-term issues including a declining population.

“Tough issues are mounting before the Suga cabinet,” said Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo.

“The coronavirus is the top priority to tackle. On the diplomatic front, there are many uncertain factors, including the US presidential election,” he told AFP.

Abe formally resigned on Wednesday along with his cabinet, ending his record run in office with a year left in his mandate.

He opted to step down after a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease that has long plagued him and also helped force an early end to his first term in office, after just a year.

– ‘All my strength’ –

He hands the reins to a man who differs in many ways.

While Abe prioritised foreign relations, Suga is a diplomatic novice more comfortable negotiating between ministries and resolving bureaucratic roadblocks.

And unlike Abe, a political blue-blood, Suga is the son of a strawberry-farmer father and schoolteacher mother, who was raised in rural Akita and worked in a factory while he was in college.

Suga’s new cabinet offers further evidence of his desire for continuity, with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi staying on along with Finance Minister Taro Aso.

Just two women were appointed — as Olympics and justice ministers — down from the three who served in Abe’s last government.

On the economic front, Suga is said to be committed to his predecessor’s signature “Abenomics” programme of vast government spending, massive monetary easing and the cutting of red tape.

Diplomatically, he is expected to prioritise the key relationship with the United States, whoever is president after November’s election.

He will face a trickier question on ties with China, with a global hardening of opinion against Beijing after the coronavirus and unrest in Hong Kong.

Abe, who served as prime minister for a total of eight years, will stay on as a lawmaker, with some mooting the possibility he could undertake diplomatic missions.

On Wednesday morning as he prepared to resign, Abe said he had given “all my strength” and was ending his tenure “with a sense of pride”.

“I owe everything to the Japanese people.”

AFP

Yoshihide Suga Emerges Japan’s New Prime Minister After Abe’s Resignation

Japan’s Chief ex-Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga

 

 

Yoshihide Suga became Japan’s new prime minister on Wednesday, with the former chief cabinet secretary expected to stick closely to policies championed by Shinzo Abe during his record-breaking tenure.

Suga, 71, won an easy victory in a parliamentary vote, where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) holds a commanding majority.

He bowed deeply as lawmakers applauded his win, but made no immediate comment. He is not expected to speak until late Wednesday when he gives his first press conference as prime minister.

Suga’s new cabinet was announced shortly after the vote, with several ministers keeping their jobs, including Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Finance Minister Taro Aso.

Abe’s brother Nobuo Kishi, who was adopted by his uncle as a child and carries his surname, is the new defence minister, replacing Taro Kono, who becomes administrative reform minister.

Suga is seen as a continuity candidate and has said his run was inspired by a desire to pursue Abe’s policies, although analysts warned of challenges ahead.

File photo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at the Nagasaki Peace Park on August 9, 2020. (Photo by JAPAN POOL VIA JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / Japan OUT

 

“Tough issues are mounting before the Suga cabinet,” said Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo.

“The coronavirus is the top priority to tackle. On the diplomatic front, there are many uncertain factors, including the US presidential election,” he told AFP.

Abe formally resigned earlier Wednesday along with his cabinet, ending his record run in office with a year left in his mandate.

He was forced out by a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease that has long plagued him.

Tokyo stock markets were largely unmoved by Suga’s election, and no major policy changes were expected when the Bank of Japan ends a two-day meeting on Thursday.

– ‘This is my mission’ –

Suga has spent decades in politics, and has a reputation for pushing government policies through a sometimes intractable bureaucracy.

He doggedly defended the government as its chief spokesman, including in sometimes testy exchanges with journalists.

His upbringing, as the son of a strawberry-farmer father and schoolteacher mother, sets him apart from Japan’s many blue-blood political elites.

But while he has championed some measures intended to help rural areas like his hometown in northern Japan’s Akita, his political views remain something of a mystery.

He is viewed as more pragmatic than ideological, and during his campaign spoke more about the need for administrative reforms than any grand guiding principles.

Suga has said kickstarting the economy, which was already in recession before the pandemic, will be a top priority, along with containing the virus — essential if the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics are to open as planned in July 2021.

His recipe for doing that? More of the same.

“In order to overcome the crisis and give the Japanese people a sense of relief, we need to succeed in what Prime Minister Abe has been implementing,” Suga said after being elected LDP leader on Monday.

“This is my mission.”

– ‘All my strength’ –

His cabinet was seen as evidence of those plans, with a slew of familiar faces, among them just two women — the Olympics and justice ministers — down from the three who served in Abe’s last government.

Suga is expected to stick with his predecessor’s signature “Abenomics” programme of vast government spending, massive monetary easing and the cutting of red tape.

And on the foreign policy front, where Suga is a relative novice, he is also likely to tread the path charted by Abe, prioritising the key relationship with the United States, regardless of who is president after November’s election.

Relations with China may prove trickier with a global hardening of opinion against Beijing after the coronavirus and unrest in Hong Kong.

There has been speculation that Suga could call a snap election to consolidate his position and avoid being seen as a caretaker prime minister, but he has been circumspect on the prospect.

Abe, who served as prime minister for a total of eight years, will stay on as a lawmaker, with some mooting the possibility he could undertake diplomatic missions.

On Wednesday morning as he prepared to resign, Abe said he had given “all my strength” and was ending his tenure “with a sense of pride”.

“I owe everything to the Japanese people.”

AFP

Osaka, Zverev Into US Open Last Four

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 08: Naomi Osaka of Japan serves during her Womens Singles quarter-finals match against Shelby Rogers of the United States on Day Nine of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images /AFP

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka sailed into the semi-finals of the US Open on Tuesday as Alexander Zverev of Germany booked his spot in the last four of the men’s draw.

Osaka, the tournament’s fourth seed, swept aside unseeded Shelby Rogers in straight sets to set up a match with Jennifer Brady for a place in Saturday’s final.

The 22-year-old Osaka required just 1hr 20 min inside an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium to defeat the 27-year-old Rogers 6-3, 6-4.

Osaka, the world number 9, said her victory was payback for three previous defeats to the 93rd-ranked Rogers.

They included a 2017 loss on clay in Charleston that Osaka said had left “a really bad aftertaste in my mouth.”

“Honestly, I just felt like she had the upper hand because I’ve never beaten her,” Osaka said.

“And those memories are stuck in my head so I consider this a little bit of revenge,” she added.

Osaka’s dominant service game contributed to a comfortable runout for the 2018 US Open champion.

She won 83 percent of points on her first serve and 70 percent on her second.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 08: Alexander Zverev of Germany reacts during his Men’s Singles quarterfinal match against Borna Coric of Croatia on Day Nine of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP.

 

In contrast, Rogers managed only 66 percent and 33 percent respectively. Rogers hit 29 unforced errors compared to just eight committed by Osaka.

Brady conquered some serious nerves to defeat Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva and reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time.

The American 28th seed needed just 1hr 9 min to blow away her 23rd-seeded opponent 6-3, 6-2.

“Coming into the match today, honestly I was feeling like I was going to poop my pants. I was very nervous,” said the 25-year-old Brady.

“I just tried to really stay calm and keep it cool as a cucumber out there,” she added.

Brady is yet to drop a set and has lost only 24 games during her march to the semis, the fewest of anyone left in the draw.

Osaka said Brady would be a formidable opponent.

“I think she’s a really amazing player she has the variety that I wish I had, so I’m a bit jealous,” said the Japanese.

Zverev bounced back from a shocking start to oust 27th-seeded Croatian Borna Coric in four sets.

– ‘Hungry’ –

The 23-year-old German prevailed 1-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/1), 6-3 in 3hr 25min.

He began playing more aggressively after finding himself a set down, and 4-2 behind in the second set.

“I thought to myself I’m down 6-1, 4-2, I have nothing to lose at the moment,” Zverev.

The German will play Spain’s 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta for a place in Sunday’s final.

The Spaniard defeated 12th-seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), 0-6, 6-3 in an epic five-setter that ended in the early hours of Wednesday.

The disqualification of top seed Novak Djokovic on Sunday has blown the men’s competition at Flushing Meadows wide open.

His departure means the US Open will crown a first-time Grand Slam winner on Sunday.

“I know that all the young guys are hungry for it. It’s going to be interesting,” said Zverev, who will play either 12th-seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov or Spain’s Pablo Carrena Busta in the last four.

Zverev, who is in his second-consecutive Grand Slam semi-final after reaching the last four at the Australian Open this year, said he was yet to kick into fifth gear.

“I feel like I can still improve a few more things and that only gives me confidence,” he told reporters.

On Wednesday, second seed Dominic Thiem faces Australian Alex de Minaur and third seed Daniil Medvedev plays compatriot Andrey Rublev for the other semi-final spot.

In the women’s draw, Serena Williams faces unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova and former world number one Victoria Azarenka takes on 16th seed Elise Mertens in the remaining quarter-finals.

AFP

Typhoon Hits South Korea After Triggering Landslides In Japan

A general view shows debris washed up at Kagoshima Port in the aftermath of Typhoon Haishen in Kagoshima on September 7, 2020. – Powerful Typhoon Haishen approached South Korea on September 7 after slamming southern Japan with record winds and heavy rains that prompted evacuation warnings for millions.  STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP.

 

A powerful typhoon lashed South Korea on Monday after smashing into southern Japan with record winds and heavy rains that left up to eight people dead or missing.

More than 300,000 households were still without power Monday afternoon after Typhoon Haishen roared past Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, ripping off roofs and dumping half a metre (20 inches) of water in just a day.

Rescue workers were picking through mud and detritus seeking four missing people after a landslide in rural Miyazaki.

Dozens of police officers were on their way to help, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

At least one person had been killed by the typhoon, he said, with the causes of another three deaths during the storm not immediately known.

Haishen, which came on the heels of another powerful typhoon, crashed into Okinawa on Saturday and moved northwards throughout Sunday.

Around 1.8 million people were told to seek shelter for fear that the 200-kilometre-per-hour (135-mile-per-hour) winds would wreak havoc on Japan’s wooden housing stock.

By lunchtime on Monday, the storm had moved over South Korea, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and triggering landslides.

Traffic lights and trees were felled in and around Busan, streets were flooded and power was knocked out for around 20,000 homes across the country.

The typhoon cut electricity to Hyundai Motor’s assembly lines in the city of Ulsan, bringing production to a halt for several hours.

Haishen churned its way up the eastern side of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in Korea, having lost some of its destructive force, but still packing winds of up to 112 kilometres per hour.

The streets of the port city of Sokcho were largely empty, but some residents braved the rain and wind to take photos and marvel at the swell crashing into the harbour wall.

Outside the city, swollen rivers surged through the countryside carrying debris and the occasional fallen tree.

Haishen was forecast to make landfall again in Chongjin, North Hamgyong province in North Korea, at around midnight, according to South Korea’s Meteorological Administration.

Pyongyang’s state media have been on high alert, carrying live broadcasts of the situation, with one showing a reporter driving through a windy, inundated street in Tongchon, Kangwon province.

“Now is the time when we must be on our highest alert,” he said, adding that winds were as powerful as 126 kilometres per hour.

State broadcaster KCTV showed flooded streets and trees shaking from the strong gusts.

North Korea is still reeling from the effects of Typhoon Maysak last week.

Leader Kim Jong Un appeared in state media over the weekend inspecting the damage. He also sacked a top provincial official in South Hamgyong.

He ordered 12,000 ruling party members in Pyongyang to help with recovery efforts, and the official KCNA news agency reported Monday that around 300,000 had responded to his call.

The North’s state media have yet to specify how many people Maysak left missing, injured or dead.

– Hotels full –

In Japan, Typhoon Haishen first made its presence felt on a string of exposed, remote southern islands before sweeping past the Kyushu region.

As it approached Kyushu authorities issued evacuation orders for 1.8 million people, with 5.6 million others told to take precautions.

In some places, residents checked into hotels to shelter from the storm.

Japan converts its municipal buildings and schools into shelters during emergencies, but some people were reluctant to gather in large numbers due to fears over the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am worried about coronavirus infections. We’re with small children too, so we did not want other people to see us as big trouble,” an elderly man in Shibushi city told broadcaster NHK after checking in at a local hotel with seven relatives.

The storm forced the cancellation of nearly 550 flights and disrupted train services, the network said.

Many factories also suspended operations, including three plants operated by Toyota.

AFP

Powerful Typhoon Slams Japan With Violent Winds, Heavy Rain

Women walk in heavy rain as Typhoon Haishen hits Kagoshima, Kagoshima prefecture on September 6, 2020. – Typhoon Haishen began to lash southern Japan on September 6, with officials warning it could bring record rainfall and winds strong enough to snap power line poles and flip cars. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP.

 

A powerful typhoon that officials warned could bring record rains and gusts strong enough to flip cars slammed into southern Japan on Sunday, prompting authorities to urge millions to seek shelter.

Typhoon Haishen has weakened somewhat as it neared Japan’s mainland, and shifted further west out to sea, but it remained a “large” and “extremely strong” storm.

After lashing a string of exposed, remote southern islands, it neared Japan’s Kyushu region on Sunday evening, with authorities issues evacuation advisories for more than seven million residents.

The weather agency urged peoples to exercise “most serious caution” for possible record rain, violent winds, high waves and surging tides.

“Record-level rainfall is expected. It may cause landslides or it could cause even large rivers to flood,” said Yoshihisa Nakamoto, director of the forecast division at the Japan Meteorological Agency, during a televised briefing.

He added that surging tides could cause widespread flooding in low-lying areas, particularly around river mouths.

As the storm passed over several remote islands earlier Sunday, strong winds bent palm trees and sheets of rain lashed the area.

At an emergency cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that flooding and landslides were a possibility.

“Maximum caution is needed as record rain, violent winds, high waves and high tides are possible,” he said.

“I ask the Japanese people, including those who live in high-risk areas for flooding rivers or high tides, to stay informed and take action immediately to ensure their safety.”

At 7 pm (1000 GMT), Haishen was located about 100 kilometres (62 miles) south-southwest of Makurazaki city, packing gusts up to 216 kmh (135 miles) — strong enough to overturn vehicles and snap wooden power poles.

The storm was forecast to move north and travel off the western coast of Kyushu before reaching South Korea Monday morning, according to the weather agency.

– Evacuation orders, blackouts –

Authorities issued evacuation orders for 1.8 million people in the affected area, with 5.6 million people issued lower-level advisories, national broadcaster NHK said.

Evacuation orders in Japan are not compulsory, though authorities strongly urge people to follow them.

Local officials asked people to avoid crowded shelters where possible, to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections, and some shelters were forced to turn people away in order to have enough space to maintain social distancing.

In some places, residents were checking into local hotels to comply with evacuations advisories.

Hotel Polaris in Shibushi city, Kagoshima, said all 73 of its rooms were sold out for the weekend.

“This is a large building for our area. I think our guests have chosen to stay with us to feel safe,” front desk employee Takayuki Shinmura told AFP, adding that it was unusual for all of the hotel’s rooms to be occupied during typhoons.

Those who sought hotel rooms said the pandemic and discomfort of public shelters were weighing on them.

“I am worried about coronavirus infections. We’re with small children too, so we did not want other people to see us as big trouble,” an elderly man in Shibushi city told NHK after checking in at a local hotel with seven relatives.

The storm has forced the cancellation of nearly 550 flights and disrupted train services, NHK said.

Many factories also suspended operations, including three plants operated by Toyota.

A total of 79,000 homes in Kagoshima and neighbouring Miyazaki lost power Sunday evening as the storm approached the region.

Haishen forced the Japanese coast guard to suspend its search for dozens of missing sailors from the Gulf Livestock 1 cargo ship that sank in an earlier storm.

Two survivors and the body of a third crew member were found before the search was suspended, and the coast guard said it will resume the operation when Haishen clears the region.

AFP

Japan Ruling Party Sets Sept 14 Vote On PM Abe’s Successor

File photo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on April 17, 2020./AFP

 

Japan’s ruling party will vote on September 14 on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s replacement, an official confirmed Wednesday, as powerful chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga consolidated his frontrunner status in the race.

A vote in parliament — expected to endorse the Liberal Democratic Party’s new leader — is likely to follow on September 16.

The new prime minister will face a raft of challenges, from the coronavirus pandemic to a tanking economy, as well as ensuring the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games can go ahead.

Key LDP factions have already thrown their support behind Suga, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy later Wednesday.

Two other candidates, former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, have so far announced plans to stand.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving leader, kicked off the race when he said last week he would step down over health problems.

– Scaled-back vote –

The LDP has opted for a scaled-back leadership vote that will not include rank-and-file members.

Instead, only its MPs and three representatives from each of the country’s 47 prefectures will vote.

The decision has elicited some criticism, but party officials said it would take too long to organise a broader vote.

Experts said the format favours Suga, 71, who has built an effectively insurmountable lead in the race already.

His selection “is increasingly assured, as the LDP’s factions -– with the exception of the factions headed by rival candidates Shigeru Ishiba and Fumio Kishida -– have lined up behind Suga”, said Tobias Harris, a Japan expert at Teneo consultancy, in a note.

Suga has held his key post for years — coordinating policy among ministries and agencies and serving as the effective face of the government as its chief spokesman.

File photo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wears a face mask as he enters a venue for his news conference in Tokyo on May 25, 2020. (Photo by KIM KYUNG-HOON / POOL / AFP)

 

Considered a pragmatic politician, he is a close Abe advisor who encouraged the prime minister to run again after a disastrous first term in office ended after just a year in 2007.

– Rivals –

Kishida, 63, a former foreign minister, was in the past considered Abe’s favoured successor.

But the outgoing prime minister has said he will not endorse a candidate, and Kishida’s limited public profile is likely to leave him struggling to challenge the likes of Suga.

On Wednesday, the police chief said more was needed from Abe’s signature economic stimulus programme, as it had primarily benefited big companies and the rich.

“Trickle-down effects are expected for the middle class, mid-sized and small-sized companies and for the countryside, but that’s not happening yet,” he argued in an interview with local media.

Ishiba, 63, polls well with the general public but is less popular among party members.

He once left the LDP — spending time as both an independent and briefly joining another party — and many within the ruling bloc have not forgiven the political alliance.

Ishiba has also stressed the need for everyday people on lower incomes to benefit from government economic policies, and said Japan needs to reduce its reliance on nuclear power.

 

Injury Forces Osaka To Pull Out Of Western & Southern Open Final

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 26: Naomi Osaka of Japan looks on against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 26, 2020 in New York City. Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP
AL BELLO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka withdrew from the Western & Southern Open WTA final due to a left hamstring injury on Saturday, just two days before the start of the US Open.

The world number 10’s withdrawal means meaning Victoria Azarenka takes the title by walkover.

“I’m sorry to have to withdraw today with an injury,” said Osaka, who is currently on the Monday night schedule at the US Open where she is due to play fellow Japanese player Misaki Doi in the first round.

“I pulled my left hamstring yesterday in the second set tiebreak and it has not recovered overnight as I had hoped.”

READ ALSO: Rodrigo Signs Four-Year Deal With Leeds For Club-Record Fee

Osaka, 22, had defeated Belgium’s Elise Mertens in the semi-final to set up the championship match against two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka, from Belarus, in the same New York COVIC-19 quarantine bubble where the US Open will be held.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, of Haitian and Japanese heritage, had threatened not to play in the semi-finals to protest the police shooting of African-American Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Osaka said she was “sick to her stomach” and “exhausted” by repeated violence against blacks by US police, echoing a move by the NBA Milwaukee Bucks in boycotting a playoff game for the same reason, which brought the entire league to a standstill for three days.

Osaka’s decision prompted the WTA and ATP to postpone all semi-final matches to Friday, which inspired Osaka to change her mind and play, although she was worried other delayed players would be upset.

“This has been an emotional week and I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support,” said Osaka, who had said on Friday her gesture, and the backing she received from the tours and other players had made her “more aware of the impact my voice could have.”

The injury, however, is a major blow as she prepared to the return of her first Grand Slam triumph, her 2018 victory over US star Serena Williams in a controversial US Open final at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.

She followed that up with a victory in the 2019 Australian Open before enduring a slump that saw her exit in the first round of Wimbledon and exit early in her defense of the US Open title.

With her father standing in as coach Osaka roared back to the form that had made her number one with back to back titles in Japan and China in 2019.

In May she was reported by Forbes to be the highest-paid female athlete in the world, the magazine calculating her earings over the prior 12 months at $37.4 million (34.3 million euros).

She edged Williams by $1.4 million in prize money and endorsement income over the past year.

But Osaka endured disappointment again at the Australian Open in January, where she fell in straight sets to unseeded US teenager Coco Gauff in the round of 32.

She had lost in the semi-finals at Brisbane in an Aussie Open tune-up event, and the Western & Southern Open was her first WTA appearance since the tour resumed in the wake of a coronavirus shutdown that started in March and caused Wimbledon to be cancelled and the French Open postponed to late September.

AFP

Resignation: Candidates Jostle To Become Abe’s Successor As Japan PM

File; Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wears a face mask as he enters a venue for his news conference in Tokyo on May 25, 2020. – Japan lifted a nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus on May 25, gradually reopening the world’s third-largest economy as government officials warned caution was still necessary to prevent another wave. (Photo by KIM KYUNG-HOON / POOL / AFP)

 

The race to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kicked off informally on Saturday, with several contenders announcing their plans to stand; a day after Japan’s longest-serving leader announced his resignation.

Abe said he was suffering a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, the condition that forced him to cut short his first term in office, but that he would stay on until his successor is decided.

Exactly how the process will unfold was still unclear, with local media reporting on Saturday that several options were being considered.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party could opt for a more traditional leadership election, involving lawmakers but also members of the party nationwide.

But the urgency of the situation, as well as the constraints imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, could see the party instead opt to poll only its lawmakers and regional representatives — a faster process.

READ ALSO: Trump Pays ‘Highest Respect’ To Resigning Japanese PM Abe

A decision on how the election will be held, and when, is expected early next week, along with more clarity on who will stand for the post.

A few would-be candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring, including party policy chief Fumio Kishida, a mild-mannered former foreign minister considered Abe’s personal choice for successor, and ex-defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, who is seen as more popular with voters but commands less party support than some other candidates.

Finance Minister Taro Aso, himself a former prime minister and long considered a likely successor to Abe, has announced he will not stand.

Other possible candidates include powerful chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, viewed by many as a frontrunner, and current defence minister Taro Kono, a social-media-savvy former foreign minister who is seen as something of a longshot.

One woman is among those expected to stand so far: Seiko Noda, a former cabinet minister whose chances are thought to be slim.

No Drastic Changes

Whoever comes out on top, analysts said, little major shift in policy is expected.

“Key policies –- diplomacy and economic measures — won’t be changed drastically,” Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, told AFP.

“His successor could be a caretaker,” effectively, Nishikawa added, given that the LDP will hold another leadership election in September 2021, with general elections likely the following month.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, an honorary professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo, said Abe’s successor would not produce any surprises but would face “big challenges”.

Most immediate will be the ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic, with heavy criticism of Abe’s government so far for policies viewed as contradictory and slow.

But there are also diplomatic challenges on the horizon, including on relations with China.

Ties had been warming, but with rising tensions between Beijing and Washington and concerns domestically about issues including the coronavirus outbreak and the situation in Hong Kong, the next prime minister faces a balancing act.

Abe is also leaving office with the issue of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics still unresolved. The Games were postponed by a year over the pandemic and are now scheduled to open in July 2021, but questions remain about whether the event can be held safely.

And the next prime minister will inherit an economy that had swung into recession even before the coronavirus crisis hit and may face further hits if additional waves of infection force business shutdowns again this winter.

Tokyo markets slumped on Friday on news of Abe’s resignation but recovered slightly before the end of trade, and economists said disruption would be minimal because the economic policy was not likely to change.

“We believe the current monetary easing policies and expansionary fiscal policies will continue for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote Naoya Oshikubo, senior economist at SuMi TRUST.

“Thus the impact on the market should be limited in the mid-to-long term.”

AFP

Trump Pays ‘Highest Respect’ To Resigning Japanese PM Abe

US President Donald Trump speaks with reporters aboard Air Force One as he flies from Manchester, New Hampshire to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, August 28, 2020, following a campaign rally.
SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Friday paid his “highest respect” to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and voiced concern over his “great friend” resigning for health reasons.

“I want to pay my highest respect to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a very great friend of mine,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned from a campaign rally in New Hampshire.

“We’ve had a great relationship and I just feel very badly about it, because it must be very severe for him to leave.”

“He loves his country so much and for him to leave, you know, I just can’t imagine what it is. He’s a great gentleman and so I’m just paying my highest respect,” Trump added.

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Abe announced earlier he was ending his record-breaking tenure, kicking off a leadership race in the world’s third-largest economy.

He said he was suffering a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis that forced him to cut short the first term in office, and that he no longer felt able to continue as prime minister.

The two leaders have met several times during the US president’s term, and staffers have hailed the “unprecedented” relationship between Trump and his “golf buddy.”

A Japanese diplomat said last year the frequency of contact demonstrated the “unprecedented level of close personal relations” between the pair.

Trump announced in September last year that the two allies had taken a major step towards sealing a comprehensive new trade deal, after a year of negotiations between the global economic powers.

Abe was forced to leave office just one year after becoming the country’s youngest-ever prime minister but has since become Japan’s longest-serving premier.

Speculation about his political future had intensified after two recent hospital visits for unspecified health checks, but the resignation was nonetheless a surprise.

He had been expected to stay in office until the end of his term as LDP leader in September 2021.

Even as recently as Friday morning, the government spokesman had appeared to dismiss concerns about Abe’s health and suggested he would stay on.

AFP

Shinzo Abe: Political Survivor Dogged By Health Issues

File photo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on April 7, 2020. Tomohiro Ohsumi / POOL / AFP.

 

Shinzo Abe has smashed records as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, championing ambitious economic reform while weathering scandals. But he has once again been undone by his health.

After more than seven years in the job, Abe, 65, said Friday he would be stepping down because of a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis that forced him from office during his first stint as premier.

He had been due to stay on until September 2021, when his party presidency terms ends, giving him an opportunity to see out one final event in his historic tenure — the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games.

A sprightly 52 years old when he first became prime minister in 2006, Abe was the youngest person ever to occupy the job, and was seen as a symbol of change and youth.

But in a country that sets much store by tradition, he also brought the pedigree of a third-generation politician groomed from birth by an elite, conservative family.

His first term was turbulent; shot through with scandals and discord, and capped by an abrupt resignation that made him the latest in a succession of short-lived Japanese prime ministers.

After initially suggesting he was stepping down for political reasons, he subsequently acknowledged he was suffering an ailment later diagnosed as ulcerative colitis.

File photo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on April 17, 2020./AFP

 

The debilitating bowel condition necessitated months of treatment, but was, he said, eventually overcome with the help of new medication.

The revolving prime ministerial door brought him back to office in 2012 — and, until Friday, had stayed shut for an unusually long time.

With Japan still staggering from the effects of the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima — and with its inexperienced government lashed for flip-flopping and incompetence — the wily veteran offered a seemingly safe pair of hands.

He also had a plan. He called it Abenomics.

The scheme to revive Japan’s long-stalled economy — still the world’s third biggest, but more than two decades into stagnation — involved vast government spending, massive monetary easing and the cutting of red tape.

He also sought to boost the country’s flagging birth rate by making workplaces more friendly to parents, particularly mothers, and pushed through controversial consumption tax hikes partially intended to help fund free nursery school places for children, and plug gaps in Japan’s overstretched social security system.

While there was some progress with reform, the bigger structural problems for the economy never really went away. Abenomics was not enough to right the deflation that has beset Japan for decades, and growth has remained anaemic.

The economy had swung into reverse even before the coronavirus crisis wiped out remaining gains.

Abe’s star has waned further in recent months with his pandemic handling criticised as confused and slow, driving his approval ratings down to some of the lowest of his tenure.

Mixed record

On the international stage, he has taken a hard line on North Korea, but sought a peacemaker role between the US and Iran.

He prioritised building a close personal relationship with Donald Trump in a bid to protect Japan’s key alliance, despite the US president’s “America First” mantra, and tried to heal ties with Russia and China.

But here too the scorecard is mixed: Trump is reportedly still eager to force Japan to pay more for US troops stationed in the country; Tokyo has failed to make progress in resolving the status of northern islands disputed with Russia, and a plan to invite Xi Jinping for a state visit has fallen by the wayside amid growing domestic discontent with Beijing.

And while Abe has not repeated a 2013 visit to a controversial war shrine that sparked regional anger and even a US rebuke, he has pursued a hard line with South Korea over unresolved wartime disputes and continued to float plans to revise the country’s pacifist constitution.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2nd L) and Health Minister Katsunobu Kato (L) attend a meeting of the new COVID-19 coronavirus infectious disease control headquarters at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on February 14, 2020. STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP

 

Throughout his tenure, he has weathered political storms including cronyism allegations that have dented his approval ratings, but done little to affect his power, in part thanks to the weakness of Japan’s political opposition.

But even faced with a paucity of alternatives, many voters have tired of Abe.

Speaking to AFP on the streets of Tokyo, Tetsuya Daimon lamented a litany of scandals, and said it was time for Abe to go.

“He has been in the prime minister’s office way too long,” said Daimon.

“I don’t want to see his face, honestly. Seven years and eight months, too long!”

 

 

AFP

Japan PM Abe Resigns Over Health Problems

File photo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on April 7, 2020. Tomohiro Ohsumi / POOL / AFP.

 

 

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Friday he will resign over health problems, in a development that kicks off a leadership contest in the world’s third-largest economy.

“I have decided to step down from the post of the prime minister,” he told a press conference, saying he was suffering from a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis that ended his first term in office.

Abe said he was receiving a new treatment for the condition, which needed to be administered on a regular basis which would not leave him with sufficient time to discharge his duties.

File photo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on April 17, 2020, ./AFP

 

“Now that I am not able to fulfil the mandate from the people with confidence, I have decided that I should no longer occupy the position of the prime minister.”

Abe is expected to stay in office until his ruling Liberal Democratic Party can choose a successor, in an election likely to take place among the party’s lawmakers and members.

There is no clear consensus on who will succeed him, with likely candidates including Finance Minister Taro Aso and chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Abe, who stepped down as prime minister just one year into his first term, in 2007, offered his apologies for the second resignation.

“I would like to sincerely apologise to the people of Japan for leaving my post with one year left in my term of office, and amid the coronavirus woes, while various policies are still in the process of being implemented,” Abe said, bowing deeply.

AFP

Osaka Reverses Course, Will Play WTA Semi-Final

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 26: Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 26, 2020 in New York City. Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP.

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka reversed her decision to withdraw from the WTA Western & Southern Open semi-finals on Thursday, saying she will now play the match that has been rearranged for Friday.

The two-time Grand Slam champion said in a statement on Wednesday that she had pulled out of her last-four clash with Belgium’s Elise Mertens in protest at the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

However, after WTA and ATP chiefs announced a suspension of play at the tournament following anger over Blake’s shooting, Osaka said she has now changed her mind.

“As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence,” Osaka said in a statement first reported by Britain’s The Guardian and The New York Times.

“I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent.

“However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday.

“They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement.

“I want to thank the WTA and the tournament for their support.”

In her statement on Wednesday, Osaka had said she was not ready to play tennis following the Blake shooting.

“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka said.

“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”

Her move came after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their NBA playoff game over the shooting, forcing the league to halt Wednesday’s schedule of postseason fixtures.

AFP